MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Devin Smeltzer took the mound for his first game in the majors, his wife and parents among a sizable crowd at Target Field, set to face NL MVP Christian Yelich and the hard-hitting Milwaukee Brewers.
After fighting to get this far, no way.
Diagnosed with cancer when he was just 9 years old, Smeltzer added another chapter to his inspiring comeback story, pitching six shutout innings in his debut to help the Minnesota Twins beat the Brewers 5-3 Tuesday night.
“It’s everything I’ve dreamed of. I’ve worked for this my whole life, been through a lot and it all came true today,” he said after tearful hugs from 21 family members outside the clubhouse, including an extended embrace with his wife, Brianne.
“I joked with my wife after the game, ‘I think that’s the most calm I’ve ever been.’ I’m usually very high energy,” he said. “Tonight, I felt like I’d done it a million times.”
Smeltzer probably had that many dreams, or more, about baseball success while building to this moment. It was a long way from the day doctors found a grapefruit-sized cancerous tumor against his bladder.
“I know that tomorrow, between the lines, may not happen. It’s been told to me before, and I don’t take a day for granted out there,” he said.
“So I put a lot into that, and my family goes with that, and pretty much everything I’ve been through has turned into hard work and determination and putting my nose down and working a lot and just keep pushing,” he said.
The 23-year-old Smeltzer allowed three hits, walked none and struck out seven. Showing a funky, three-quarter style delivery, the lanky left-hander threw 69 pitches, 53 for strikes.
He exited with the game scoreless and got a no-decision. Manager Rocco Baldelli said Smeltzer will get another chance at his first win.
“It was really fun experience just watching him keep rolling out there inning after inning and getting the job done,” he said “He did exactly what he’s been doing in the minor leagues.”
In nine combined starts at Double-A Pensacola and Triple-A Rochester, Smeltzer was 3-2 with a 1.15 ERA. He got called up this week when the Twins put pitcher Michael Pineda on the injured list with right knee tendinitis.
Smeltzer retired his final eight batters, striking out Lorenzo Cain and Yelich to end the sixth.
Smeltzer danced around damage in the second, third and fourth innings when, with a runner on base, the final out each inning was a catch on the warning track.
The Twins got Smeltzer last July in a trade that sent second baseman Brian Dozier to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Eddie Rosario homered and Max Kepler added a two-run double for Minnesota, which has won 12 of 14 and has the best record in the majors.
Keston Hiura and Yasmani Grandal homered late for the Brewers.
Rosario capped a five-run seventh inning with a two-run drive off Junior Guerra. It was the Twins’ 56th home run in May, setting a franchise record for a month.
That homer came after C.J. Cron doubled off Guerra to make it 3-0. Kepler, chosen the AL Player of the Week, doubled in two runs earlier in the inning against Alex Claudio (1-2).
Matt Magill (1-0) tossed a scoreless inning and Ryne Harper got the final out for his first career save.
In the fourth, Kepler made a leaping grab at the wall, lost the ball in the transfer and doubled up Ryan Braun at second base. Milwaukee unsuccessfully challenged the catch and is 1-6 in replay challenges this season.
Milwaukee starter Zach Davies allowed five hits and struck out four in six shutout innings. He allowed six earned runs in three innings last Wednesday against Cincinnati.
“I felt like I stuck to my game plan in my last outing but the execution of pitches wasn’t there,” he said. “Coming into this game, just making sure I’m free and easy, and throwing to my game plan. I ended up executing better and the results followed.”
Smeltzer is the fourth Twins starter in team history to throw at least six shutout innings in his major league debut. Andrew Albers, Anthony Swarzak and Eric Milton are the others.
Brewers: RHP Jeremy Jeffress who was nearly hit in the head by a line drive Monday and fell back at an awkward angle, said he feels fine. … Entering Tuesday, 3B Travis Shaw (right wrist) was 2 for 19 in his first five games on a Triple-A rehab assignment with six strikeouts. Manager Craig Counsell said there is no timetable for his return.
Twins: CF Byron Buxton left in the second inning with a bruised right knee after crashing hard into the fence in front of the bullpens as he tried to catch a second-inning triple by Grandal. “I feel fine. It’s just one of those things where I come out to get looked at. Just to be precautionary,” he said.
Brewers: Send RHP Chase Anderson (2-0, 3.25) to the hill Thursday for the start of a four-game series in Pittsburgh. The Pirates plan to go with RHP Joe Musgrove (3-5. 4.27).
Twins: Open a 10-game road trip Thursday with the first of four games in Tampa Bay. LHP Martin Pérez (7-1, 2.95), who has won six of eight starts since joining the rotation, is scheduled to face the Rays’ Charlie Morton (5-0, 2.54).